Flexible leadership: The key to successful early childhood education and care

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Early childhood leadership training

There is no single style of adult leadership that is suitable for all types of nursery, day care provision, reception class or children's centre, according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

The research, led by Professor Carol Aubrey of the Institute of Education at the University of Warwick involved a team of researchers looking into the qualities of leadership that made for the most effective care and education for three to five-year-olds. The research was based on 12 case studies and aimed to analyse what leadership meant, both to leaders and staff working in early childhood education. The project sought to establish what were the essential components and characteristics of effective leadership and also sought to provide those working with pre-school children a guide to best practice.

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Key findings included:

  • That the most successful early childhood leaders were those who created a 'participative culture' and gave their staff the opportunity to exert 'bottom-up' influence on their own professional practice.
  • That effective leadership involved adopting different forms of leadership in order to provide different services and to achieve greater clarity of professional roles.
  • That even the best possible models of early childhood leadership are constrained by internal institutional factors and governmental or local authority regulations.
  • The researchers spoke both to staff working in early childhood units and those carrying out leadership roles. Staff - who were mainly female and under forty - were observed to be good at two-way interactive teamwork and also showed great enthusiasm to take part in leadership training programmes.

Commenting on the findings Professor Aubrey said:

"Our study has uncovered the need for greater application of models of leadership that are not hierarchical, that distribute responsibility and acknowledge the wide range of skills available in a multi-professional team. But it is also important to recognise that a level of maturity within the organisation has to be achieved before this can be effective.

"In addition, there is strong argument for embedding early childhood leadership training in initial training qualifications. This should continue through the career cycle, including training opportunities for those not currently working in children's centres and thus ineligible for the new National Professional Qualification for Integrated Centre Leadership."

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